I remember the first time I walked into a real, honest-to-goodness library. My elementary schools at
that time really only had small rooms (basically closets) with books that our teachers could check out for us - and one that was a little bit bigger that had someone sitting at a school desk where we could sign the check-out cards with our name and room number. But I can still picture the scene in front of me when I walked into that public library for the first time.
I was seven or eight. We had just moved to a new state, and for the first time had a really good public library system. We walked through those doors and I was absolutely in heaven. The shelves full of colorful books and people browsing through them. The activity at the circulation desk. But it was the smell that was vivid to me - partly the mustiness of some of the books - but also the glue that held the card pockets in the books and the clear cellophane-like dust jacket protectors. I thought anyone who worked in a library was a librarian and didn't realize that a lot of the people I saw behind the counter were not actual librarians, but library support staff.
All this got my imagination going - when we would play at home my sisters wanted to "play school" but I wanted to "play library" and so we would take our personal books and make check-out cards and check those books out. I didn't realize that a lot of things went on at the library that I didn't see and that the circulation of materials was only one of the many things that went on.
Fast forward nearly twenty years and I'm in library school. Fortunately, I had learned by that time that librarians didn't check out books all day (or even most of the time since library support staff usually did those job duties). They didn't get to read all day either (more's the pity). I decided I wanted to be an academic librarian, and help with research and choose books, and the wide variety of things we do that even I didn't know about until I got my first job.
So what DO librarians do?
First of all, they get a graduate degree, usually a Master of Library Science or its equivalent and it is considered the terminal degree in the profession. There are many derivations, ranging from MLS, MS, MLIS, MIS... the list goes on. There are also doctorates in the profession, though about the only people who get those want to teach in library school.
As for duties, they usually fall within one or more the following, at least within an academic library:
- Use/explain the Library of Congress classification scheme/subject headings
- Use of appropriate bibliographic utilities
- Use of cataloging functions of the integrated library system
- Know MaRC (Machine Readable Cataloging developed by the Library of Congress)
- Perform copy/original cataloging
- Use non-Library of Congress methods of organization when appropriate
- Develop internal organizational methods for archives/special collections
- Setup/maintenance of in-house indexing and its access
- Read thousands of reviews each year
- Select appropriate sources for the collection
- Make decisions on weeding/retention/replacement of collections
- Evaluate/maintain/update organization of physical facility in relation to effective use of collections
- Assess collection for usages and effectiveness for users
- Assess collection for curriculum support
- Write reports for library section of program reviews
- Keep appropriate material order records
- Find the best discounts on books and other material
- Conduct effective reference interviews
- Help users define information needs
- Instruct users in basic research, skills-based training, search queries, etc.
- Develop tools (guides, FAQs, etc) to provide guidance
- Help users evaluate information found
- Identify/locate information in all formats
- Assist users in retrieving materials both locally and off-site
- Interpret bibliographic record/citation formats
- Assess instruction and reference to determine effectiveness
- Participate in recruiting, hiring, training, evaluating, promoting all library staff
- Set clear performance expectations linked to library strategies/priorities
- Assess those strategies/priorities
- Demonstrate leadership in team environment
- Develop realistic goals/measurable objectives for the library's current/future needs
- Assess those goals/measurable objectives
- Request/defend/follow budget for library activities
- Develop and refine assessment methods for areas of primary librarianship duties
- Write reports - lots and lots and lots of reports
At ETBU and in most other colleges and universities the library are considered faculty. As a result, in addition to the above there are professional duties that involve professional development & scholarship, university participation and service, and Christian commitment and community service - just as other faculty on campus.
We may or may not teach a formal class, but we are teachers each time we assist a user in their research, or show them how to write a citation in the APA (or Turabian, or CSE, or MLA), help a user form a great search query, or host an event that is informative and interesting (and hopefully fun).
Sounds a bit more complicated than what you thought? You didn't realize there were so many things going on behind the scenes and at the forefront? Don't worry, most people don't - and many of today's librarians didn't know at one time either.
But yes, we do occasionally check out a book to you.
by Cynthia L. Peterson, MLS
Director of Library Services